Few performances are as live as a King Khan performance. The garage rock revivalist brings his authentically retro Shrines to 9:30 Club Wednesday night.
Valient Thorr and Early Man, Tuesday at the Rock and Roll Hotel … Though billed as a metal band, Valient Thorr's got more of a hard rock sound colored by thrash. It's retro as can be, and it's almost sincere about it. As frontman Valient Thorr tells it, the band was born on Venus and traveled the space-time continuum until landing on Earth in 1957 and having its time machine stolen by Walt Disney. I guess the band has decided to exact revenge on the planet with this loud, raucous and reckless music. But the real reason to check out this show is the guitar and drums duo Early Man. They worship British metal bands, particularly Motorhead and Black Sabbath, and for just two people it's a wonderful, thrashing, gawdawful racket. Their 2005 LP "Closing In" was drenched in early Sabbath. We need more.
King Khan and the Shrines, Wednesday at 9:30 Club ... This is the best retro garage rock around. It really sounds 40 years old, and King Khan is wildly entertaining on stage. According to legend, Khan, the son of Indian immigrants to Canada, who got into banding by playing in a garage punk outfit with Mark Sultan. Around the turn of the century, he relocated to Germany to tour Europe, which is when he put together his Shrines, a big band making psychedelic R&B and soul with punk energy. So Khan's one of those Canadian Indians from Germany, but he's not like all the rest. The lyrics are tremendously witty, and so are Khan's onstage antics. It's like a James Brown revue on speed. Opening is Sultan, who also performs as BBQ solo and alongside King Khan. Hopefully they'll join each other for each other's sets.
Chain and the Gang and the Hive Dwellers, Wednesday at Comet Ping Pong ... Chain and the Gang is the latest collective fronted by D.C. legend and ultimate music fan Ian Svenonius of legendary bands Nation of Ulysses, the Make-Up, Scene Creamers and Weird War. The music is an often funky and always sparse and lo-fi mix of punk, garage rock, blaxplotation and experimental sounds. Svenonius has surrounded himself with an indie supergroup including members of Saturday Looks Good to Me, Dub Narcotic Sound System, Bad Thoughts and Seahorse Liberation Army. It's the most interesting music Svenonius has made in a while. Their debut is out this month on Calvin Johnson's K Records, and Chain and the Gang is on the road with Johnson's new band, the Hive Dwellers, which features the same musicians from Chain and the Gang. Johnson is the indie legend behind the fanzine that became Sub Pop Records and the bands Beat Happening, the Halo Benders and Dub Narcotic Sound Systems. He's to be admired as much for his relentless championing of underground and often outsider artists as much as for his incredible baritone vocals.
Andy Friedman & the Other Failures, Wednesday at the Red and the Black ... Folk pop informed by country and rockabilly Andy Friedman was an illustrator who moved from the New Yorker's mailroom to its pages before backing his poetry and spoken word pieces with music. Still a baby of a guitarist, Friedman's second LP, "Weary Things," is filled with songs to drink to about trying to relive, or just trying to remember, freewheeling times before responsibility of rent and family set in.
The Twilight Sad, Thursday at the Rock and Roll Hotel ... Scotland's The Twilight Sad brings its noisy-yet-catchy rock and roll back to the Rock and Roll Hotel. "Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters," was a promising debut LP for this band. And it was a very Scottish affair, with a Scottish folk foundation and singer James Graham's terrifically thick Scottish accent. Several EPs on either side confirmed it. The sound is dense, the songs are smart, and at times, the band has an anthemic quality, an almost Joy Divisionness. And if we're lucky, they'll bring their accordions along for the show. And they're due for a new LP, so hope to hear some new material.
The Kills, Thursday at Nightclub 9:30 ... Unlike most rootsy guitar-drums duos around, The Kills don't sound retro. They've got punk rock in their hearts and pop and new wave in their chops. This cross-the-pond outfit started with Florida's Alison Mosshart and London's Jamie Hince exchanging music and ideas via the post. Their first LP was dirty. The second was dirtier. But they cleaned up their sound for 2008's more accessible "Midnight Boom," which found them using more electronic beats. With the Horrors and Magic Wands.
Marah, Friday at Jammin' Java ... Though claiming Brooklyn as its home base these days, Marah began about 15 years ago in Philly. They keep their influences close to home, venturing to the Jersey Shore to borrow a little from the Boss and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes. Their Americana varies from rollicking roots rock to Broadway to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.
Tommy Keene, Friday at Iota ... Keene's one of the best power pop guitarists ever to sling an axe, but he never made the name for himself with his solo work that he deserved, which is a shame. Many projects found him making others better and outshined his solo recordings, but that genius involved in the former is clearly evident in the latter. The Bethesda native is simply one of the best power pop guitarists ever. He played in D.C.-area bands the Rage and the Razz before hitting the road supporting new wave singer Suzanne Fellini in the early '80s. He performed in several lineups -- usually billed to his name -- throughout the '80s, and he really made his rent as a hired axe in the '90s with the likes of Velvet Crush and Paul Westerberg (later, he'd join Robert Pollard's touring band). He's back with a new LP, "In the Late Bright."
Peter Bjorn and John, Saturday at Nightclub 9:30 ... For a hot minute, Peter Bjorn and John seemed to be the best act among the Swedish Invasion of pop. The trio reaches into rock music history -- think power pop, '60s baroque and new wave -- to create a fresh new sound. On its third album, "Writer's Block," the trio continued branching out, incorporating more instruments and new directions into the sound, but at the same time, the band seems to be realizing a clearer vision. But that may have been their peak. The single "Young Folks" established them in the States, but their latest LP, "Living Thing," failed to advance or even match "Writer's Block," instead falling in to the almost great territory of their first two LPs and host of EPs. These Swedes offer noisy guitars, dreamy ambiance, synthy lo-fi pop and more with equal skill. They still deserve our attention, but they still have something left to prove. With Chairlift.
Vetiver and Papercuts, Saturday at Iota ... Vetiver is a freak-folk act with solid footing in shoegaze, psychedelia and noise rock. The band offers bittersweet music, at once witty and wistful, sarcastic and sentimental and most often mellow. Papercuts' dreamy, 1960s-pop-influenced indie rock is the project of Jason Quever. Simple-yet-lush instrumentation provides a perfect background for Quever's quivering, high vocals. "Can't Go Back" was a moody record that tripped and shambled along as Quever sang shyly about mysterious romance and hard times, often leaving the listener wondering if he's happy or sad, and should we be happy or sad for/with him. "You Can Have What You Want" leaves no argument. It's full of longing, and its title seems to be a lie. Clouds have rolled in and blocked the sun from Quever's earlier recordings.
Cursive and Man Man, Sunday at the Black Cat ... Philly's Man Man is outsider music rooted in R&B. This is one of the most exciting bands out there. They follow a long line of talented musicians who turn their nose at tradition and still base their songs on traditional music. Think of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Captain Beefheart and even the Residents. These kitchen-sinkers' quartet swells to include several more members, multi-instrumentalists whose instruments include all the instruments of a good dinner party -- pots, pans, silverware. Expect full beards, clatter, jumping around and stuff to fly into the audience. Frontman Honus Honus positions his piano on one side of center across from drummer Tiberius Lyn with the rest of the band surrounding them, and both Honus and the drummer are known to jump up onto the piano as if they are about to square off. It's a bizarre show, but brilliant music. Eclecticism at its finest. For some reason, they're on the road opening for Cursive, a vastly different band. Not to knock Cursive, for they make good alternative pop rock, but they aren't nearly as adventurous as Man Man. The bands styles seem opposed to one another. But Cursive singer Tim Kasher's uniquely quirky, powerful and often beautiful vocals do push convention.